As a Helpline Adviser, Rachael Bell, is our first point of contact for many refuges and asylum seekers. We caught up with her to find out more.

Tell us a bit about your job

I take calls from refugees and asylum seekers who are looking for support. That can include people who have just arrived in Scotland, established refugees, and people who have had their claim for asylum rejected and are now homeless.

The queries can be so varied – everything from hardship grants and healthcare to emergency housing. We work with people who are pre-asylum and might need support accessing lawyers. Also people who have just been granted refugee status and need assistance opening a bank account and applying for Universal Credit. And we support people whose appeal rights are exhausted and they require destitution support. We also take calls from other organisations and from members of the public who want to know more about the work we do and the lives of refugees in Scotland.

On the Helpline, we answer questions, refer people on to support teams within Scottish Refugee Council, or link them with other services, like community groups and charity organisations that provide food, clothing and other support. We work in partnership with other agencies to ensure people’s needs are met and will try to assist our clients in whatever way we can.

How has Covid-19 affected your role?

Demand for the Helpline has really grown. Now that the office is closed, everyone who used to come in person is calling us instead. At the start of the first lockdown, it was so busy!

When we were in the office, there was just one person taking calls in the mornings. Now there are four of us on from 10am to 4pm every weekday. There is always someone from the Destitute Asylum Seeker Support team and someone from the Refugee Integration Support team on the Helpline, so we can offer specific advice and support.

What has been the biggest challenge?

It’s hard when you don’t get to see people face to face. If a client is upset, you can’t comfort them in the same way over the phone. You can’t go and get them a cup of tea.

People are struggling to access support services as a result of lockdown. Digital inclusion is also a big one just now. I speak to people who don’t have devices like smartphone and laptops, and can’t afford internet. That can leave you really isolated.

For me personally, it can be hard to switch off when you’re working from home. You’re always at work because your bedroom becomes your office. It’s really important that my mental health is good so that I can give clients the support they need.

What keeps you going?

Penny the puppy has been a great help to Rachael during lockdownI’m lucky that I have such great colleagues. They are so supportive. If I’ve had a hard call, I know I can get in touch with them.

Not being in the same building is difficult. You can’t just go up to someone’s desk for a chat when you’re having a hard time, but I know I can always call or message them.

I also got a puppy! She’s been keeping me busy. You can feel quite isolated and overwhelmed when you’re working from home.

Penny (pictured right) has really helped with that. She sits in my lap while I’m working and I can just give her a wee cuddle whenever I need a lift.

I have another dog too, Teddy (pictured above), who is super chill and is also a great source of comfort.


Read more about our Helpline

Rachel Lamb
Author: Rachel Lamb